Drumming For Corporate Team Building


Note from Jim Greiner:

This article first appeared in the March, 2018 issue of the Percussive Arts Society’s periodical, “Percussive Notes”.

The Percussive Arts Society is a wonderful resource for drummers and percussionists worldwide for information and to network.

Visit the PAS online at www.pas.org

I’ve included the entire article. including the PAS notes at the end.


I am frequently asked by my corporate drumming clients, often with some perplexity, how I got started doing drumming programs for corporate team building and conference keynotes. My answer is an example of how our paths in life are the result of a combination of passion, purpose, and perseverance, and, as one of my clients summed it up, “simply being at the right place at the right time with the right stuff.”

Getting Started

In the early 80s, I was teaching hand drumming classes and organizing drum jam sessions in the San Francisco Bay Area, because I missed the community drumming experiences that I had in my two years in Africa… I wanted more people to play with! My classes and jam sessions included both traditional techniques and contemporary rhythms to give people a solid grounding in the mechanics and traditions of drumming. However, I also incorporated using rhythm for building a sense of community, and for reinforcing positive, personal life lessons. I based these on my life-long study of Zen and meditation principles, and on my experiences while traveling to a variety of different cultures.

After one drumming session, one of the participants, a lawyer, exclaimed, “This is the best stress release therapy and team building activity that I have ever done, we should do this in our office! We’re often so stressed out that we just don’t work together effectively, or communicate clearly, as a community.” Of course, not stopping to wonder how I would do this, I said, “Let’s do it!”

Later, I wondered what I had gotten myself into; I knew virtually nothing about the corporate world. I realized that I could not just teach a drumming class, or lead a drumming jam session. So, I did the same thing I did before any of my travels to foreign cultures – I researched it.

I spent hours in the local library studying the corporate world (this was pre-internet days). I also bought several books about management styles, various types of corporate structures, and the current corporate team-building models. In addition, I talked with several of my friends who worked in the corporate world about the nature of this culture. I also talked with the lawyer about the culture of his office, the personalities of his colleagues, and what he thought would work with his group. He emphasized the importance of making it easy and fun for his colleagues to experience the community-building, personally empowering, and stress-releasing benefits that he had experienced in my sessions.

Fortunately, I have been passionately interested in Cultural Anthropology since my early teens, so I saw this culture from that perspective as well. I also included some of the universal fundamentals of thriving communities that had fascinated me so much during my studies and during my global drumming travels.

The Three C‘s

I broke these fundamentals down into what I call the three “C’s” of community-building: Communicating, Collaborating and Celebrating. Following are short explanations of each these fundamental principles that I can deliver in the first few minutes of the session. In this way, I would set the intention for the rhythm activity, and reinforce each of them as we played together.

Communicating has two elements; listening to each other with open ears, open minds and open hearts, and learning the skills necessary to express ourselves clearly and articulately, with the goal of creating an open exchange of information and ideas with each other.

Collaborating means willingly engaging with other people to create solutions to shared challenges – not holding back, but jumping in together from the start.

Celebrating also has two elements. The first is acknowledging and celebrating successes, whether they are incremental steps forward or huge breakthroughs. In this way, we reinforce the process that created the successes. The second element of Celebrating is based on the simple truth that being alive is a blessing… Life is a blessing… and the most profound way that we humans have ever created to reinforce this truth is to gather together with others and celebrate together as family, friends and colleagues.

My corporate clients have told me time and again, that this introduction, and the way I deliver it while demonstrating rhythm skills, is what make my sessions so immediately effective, and the results so enduring.

The Curriculum

I then introduced very basic rhythmic and tonal patterns for each of the instrument families that I used that reinforced each of these three principles. I based these on some of the universal rhythmic patterns that I found were common to many cultures. I knew from experience that these would be easy for novices to play, and that they would reinforce my fundamental community-building elements in a very down-to-earth and powerful way.

The instruments I used included Congas (this was before Djembes were readily available on the west coast of the U.S.), Shekeres, Frame Drums and headless Tambourines (Jingle Rings). Each instrument family had a basic rhythmic pattern that intertwined with the others to create the group rhythm. Of course, this was a great way to reinforce the principle that each group member is contributing his and her individual skills, talents and personalities to the community goals… the Community Groove!

My goal was to create a drumming program that would truly serve this group, and that would carry over into the group members’ personal lives. I also included insights I had during several years of drumming with people around the globe about how different groups used drumming and rhythm to uplift and unify themselves, and to acknowledge and celebrate important events.

In other words, I began by studying the fundamentals of the corporate world, and then included my own interests and talents to develop a program that would truly serve this group. At that time, and to this day, I firmly believe that my fundamental role in doing this work is community service, just as I feel that my fundamental role, and privilege, as a musician is community service.


The time to do the drumming session with the law group came… They loved it! Their boss loved it…I loved it! I had one of those enormously powerful “Aha” moments as I realized that this was a completely new, and hugely unexpected way to bring the benefits of drumming to people who normally might never experience this uplifting and unifying age-old tradition.

Over time, I have refined my corporate team building activities considerably, and added conference icebreaking and interactive keynotes to my programs. However, it all started with my love of drumming and teaching, my own lifelong interests in how people create and sustain thriving communities, and my willingness to explore rhythm, and life.


Since that first corporate session, I have conducted community-building rhythm sessions worldwide for well over 3,000 groups ranging in size from six to 4,500 and in a wide range of industries. These have included construction, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, agriculture and food service, military, law enforcement, fire fighters, tech, medical services, travel, science, finance and banking, trade unions, education, aerospace, energy, health and wellness, insurance, communications, shipping, non-profit, religious, athletic, governmental, entertainment, sales, and recreation.

I have been blessed to continue to travel around the globe on my rhythm journey to every continent except Antarctica (any scientists there want to drum up some heat?). Of course, we who are involved with the Percussive Arts Society know that rhythm is a universal element that is found in every culture on earth.

My own experiences include drumming with people as widely divergent as the Tuaregs in the Sahara, The Hausa from West Africa, Flamenco musicians in Spain, Junkanoo Drummers in the Bahamas, Brazilian Samba musicians, indigenous Native American Chumash drummers in California, Gospel and Funk drummers in Chicago, Hawaiian drummers on Maui, Haka (rhythmic chanting and movement) in New Zealand, celebration drumming in China, Japanese Taiko drumming, and more. I learn more about the power of rhythm to uplift ourselves and unite us every time I play!


Jim Greiner is an internationally acclaimed, multiple award-winning percussionist, educator, community and corporate drumming pioneer, and recording artist. Through his company, Hands- On! Drumming Events (www.HandsOnDrum.com), Jim conducts rhythm sessions and performs worldwide.

Jim is a seven-time winner of Drum! Magazine’s Readers Poll awards for his clinics and instructional DVDs, and has been featured on PBS, NRP, the Discovery Channel, the BBC, and in many print and online media worldwide. Jim has also presented over 35 clinics at prestigious Percussive Arts Society International Conventions.

Jim Greiner is an endorser Artist for LP (for professional playing and teaching) Toca Percussion (for Corporate and Community Drumming), Sabian Cymbals, ProMark Drumsticks, Gibraltar Drum Hardware, and Audix Microphones.

Jim has performed hundreds of shows worldwide with one of America’s top corporate and special events bands, and with festival headliners such as Jazz/Rock icons Quicksilver Messenger Service, Blues/R&B “Lioness” Sista Monica Parker, and Rock legend Jerry Miller (#68 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s’ list of the top 100 Rock guitarists of all time).

Jim is also the designer of the LP Jim Greiner Shekere, and is an acclaimed Shekere player.

PDF Download

Drumming For Corporate Team Building by Jim Greiner- pas


Flow And Groove

One of the participants in a recent corporate team building rhythm session that I conducted in San Diego remarked that he was moved to re-read the book, Flow, because i included that concept in the session.  That inspired me to re-read parts of it again, myself!

I enthusiastically recommend psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s ground-breaking book, Flow, to you, and to anyone who wants to learn more about this heightened and deepened state of awareness.

This is the same state that athletes call The Zone, that Martial Arts and Zen practitioners sometimes refer to a Effortless Mastery, and that others call the Mind/Body connection.  This is the state of being that we also call being “in-the-moment”.

Musicians call it the Groove.  This is when we’re playing deeply entrained with each other, and with anyone who can hear and feel our music.

We enter this state, no matter what the activity is, through repeating physical actions with positive intentions and a mindful and disciplined focus on the underlying fundamental skills of our actions. This is the place where our conscious minds take a well-deserved break from judging and editing our actions and thoughts, and our subconscious minds and our bodies connect on an intuitive level.  

Of course, “repetitive actions” is just another term for “rhythms”!

It does take time to enter into this state; we have to continue repeating our actions even, and especially, when our conscious minds get “bored” and want to try something new.   As the amazing American Opera singer Beverly Sills stated, “There is no shortcut to any place worth going.”!

As we build and reinforce these fundamental actions into our muscle-and nerve-memory, we are able to let go of conscious effort and enter into this Flow state.  This is a state of graceful power!

Drumming For Health & Well Being

Drumming affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in profoundly uplifting ways. This is why people all over the earth have drummed in some manner throughout history.

In the past few years, studies conducted in hospitals and universities (some commissioned by the U.S. Senate and the Veterans Administration!) have documented the health and healing aspects of drumming. Playing drums, whether solo or with a group of people, relieves stress, increases vitality and puts us in the transcendent state of clarity and heightened awareness that psychologist Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow, and that athletes refer to as The Zone,  Drummers call this state the Groove.

In fact, drumming is very much like athletics in that in both of these activities we practice movements over and over until they become effortless, powerful and intuitive. In drumming, these movements results in patterns of sounds, that is, rhythms. This repetitive movement and sound relaxes our conscious minds and allows the subconscious mind to guide our movements spontaneously, unencumbered by the conscious mind’s tendency to analyze and control our movements.

One result of this state is the release of stress. Our modern culture is full of many minor, and some not so minor, fears, frustrations and angers. From the inconsiderate drivers who annoy us, or put our lives at risk, on on the highway, to the possibility of being “downsized” out of a job.  We are bombarded by a constant barrage of “fight or flight” stimuli. Our evolution has provided us with the ability to deal with the major, life-threatening conflicts found in nature by putting ourselves through mental and physiological changes that give us short bursts of super-charged energy.

Unfortunately, the constant stream of stresses in today’s modern world leaves us in an almost continuous low-level state of stress. This state saps our energy and self-healing reserves and leaves us vulnerable to physical and mental unwell-being. Drumming, by putting us in an alert, relaxed and powerful state, counteracts this state of fear and anger.

Drumming also gives us physical vitality because it is also a very physical activity. It gets our hearts pounding and our blood flowing. It is a great way to use our bodies, to simply work up a sweat!  Our bodies need, and love, to be used. When we use our bodies properly (relaxing, breathing with the diaphragm, using efficient, natural movements) we are rewarded with increased stamina, strength and flexibility.

Finally, drumming is fun! It’s a great way to feel the pure joy of being alive! Drumming by ourselves allows us to go deeply into our true natures by eliminating distractions and societal constraints. Drumming with other is a universally time-honored way to create a feeling of community and trust. Drumming is simply one of life’s many great gifts!

The Four P’s Of Practicing

Practice is both a verb, to practice a skill (a musical instrument, for example), and a noun, a life-practice (such as Yoga, Meditation, Music, etc.) that reinforces positive Life Rhythms… beneficial patterns of Attitude and Action.  We reinforce both through repetition.  Of course, we want to make sure that we’re repeating the things we want to get good at!

Here are four fundamental elements to build into our life-practices, and into our practicing, to make sure we are reinforcing our positive Life Rhythms… as individuals, and as groups:

1) Purpose:  Have a clear vision of what you want to do.  What are your short-, mid-, and long-term goals?

2) Plan:  Create a routine of specific actions.  Set regular days and times to engage in the activity, and know what you will do during each session.  Your practice will become a regular part of your life, and something to look forward to!

3) Persevere:  Keep to your Purpose and to your Plan.  Every time we break a routine, it becomes easier to break it again, and to feel that we are unreliable… which makes it easier to break it again.  Every time we stay with a productive routine, we reinforce a sense that we are dependable; this makes us want to live up to our dependable nature and engage in the activity again and again!

4) Play:  Have fun… We call it “playing music” for a reason!  Make any and all Practice time into Play time.  As children, we learn by playing.  As adults, we often forget to play because we now have responsibilities, and can feel that playing is wasting time.  Keep playing to keep learning! When we are reinforcing skills, or learning knew ones, we know that we are “practicing”, but when we approach each session with an attitude of, “I’m going to play now”, we create a feeling of eager anticipation. This then reinforces a positive attitude that carries over when when play, at anything, in public or with friends.  For example, I start every day by breathing deeply several times, giving thanks for all of my many Blessings, and telling myself, “I get to PLAY today!”.  This is especially important when I know that some of my day will be spent “playing” in my office to get gigs so I can PLAY for, and with, other people!

Now go play… at something… anything!

Empowering People To Empower Each Other

“I was excited to have the large drum (Djembe) to play, and I thought that I’d have a fun time banging away on it to blow off steam… to release stress!”

“But, as soon as I started to play, I realized that, since I had such a large, powerful instrument, I had a responsibility to use that power to support the group, not just to play for my own needs.”

That comment was made during one of my Comments & Observations segments in between drumming sessions at a corporate team building event I did in Iowa in mid-August. The man who made it was a large, muscular guy, whom I noticed was playing a solid part, with a few very cool variations, the whole session.

His observation reinforced a fundamental principle of my community-building drumming sessions; the power of percussion, like any power that we harness and nurture, should be used to serve others, while also giving us a personal, creative outlet to serve ourselves!

This intention can be one our of personal Life Rhythms that we reinforce through repetition of attitude and action.

One of my personal mantras that I include in my short morning “jumpstart ritual” is “I will use my power for good today!”  This has the double benefit of both renewing my power, and of focusing it towards my intentions.

For example, we all have the immensely creative power of thinking. The thoughts that we create then shape the patterns of our attitude and actions. If I fill my head with negative thoughts born out of anger or frustration, then my actions will be driven by them.  When I instead create thought patterns of how I will do good, then I am much more able to act in ways that help solve the issues that anger or frustrate me.  Of course, this is an ongoing practice that I have to renew every day! 

Playing Music For Communications Skills and Healthy Brains

A recent Canadian study documented in The Journal of Neuroscience reports, “Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training.” The study concluded, ” Researchers found that musicians’ brains were able to process speech better than those who were non-musicians. This, in turn, shows that learning a musical instrument could be important for ensuring better cognitive abilities and preventing decline later in life.”

Musicians jokes aside, This is very compelling information: playing music can keep our brains healthy and enhance our ability to communicate effectively!

Communicating is one of the three foundation principles that I integrate into all of my corporate and community drumming sessions and teaching.

I break the Communicating principle into two intertwined elements: a) listening to each other with open ears, open minds and open hearts, and b) developing the skills for expressing ourselves clearly and articulately with the intention of creating a free exchange of information and ideas. This holds true for both playing music and living Life!

Hey… this isn’t Rocket Science, or even just Neuroscience! This is a very simple principle that is an integral part of both playing a musical instrument, and of reinforcing positive Life Rhythms… patterns of attitude and action: We get good at the things we practice, so we want to make sure we are practicing the things we WANT to get good at!

Rhythm: The Universal Language

The young software designer from India looked across our circle of drummers at his colleague from northern Europe, grinned broadly and exclaimed, “I loved the part you were playing, so I copied it. It was so very easy for me to play!”

The other fellow looked surprised, laughed and said, “I thought I copied it from you!”

I had been brought in to do a corporate team building program for a group of software engineers from Asia, Europe, India and North America who would be working on a project together. They all spoke fluent English, however the organizers knew that the different work styles and cultural expectations among team members might slow down their creative process.

My client’s goal for me was to help the participants quickly create a spirit of teamwork and a unified group culture of communication and collaboration that transcended their deeply-ingrained cultural differences.

As we played together, I helped them to learn how to recognize and support each other’s personalities and contributions, and to create their own unique, powerful Team Groove.

Some of the revelations that they shared during our Comments & Observations discussion afterwards included:
– “If I got off the rhythm, I was able to get back on when I listened to what others were playing!”

– “I could try new things, because the group rhythm was so strong that we supported each other’s creativity!”

– “I always thought that I didn’t have any rhythm.  I wonder what else in life I keep myself from doing simply because I’ve never learned the fundamentals.”

Group drumming, when done in a focused and purposeful way, is such a great builder of communication and collaboration skills because the same core principles and skills apply to both group drumming and to all thriving communities:

– actively listening to other group members with open ears, open minds and open hearts

– expressing ourselves clearly with the intention of creating a free exchange of information and ideas

– responding to what other people contribute, not to our own inner conversations

– willingly engaging together to create solutions to our shared challenges

And, as an added benefit, drumming is a powerful, time-honored way to celebrate successes and the blessings of life with others… to play together!

Leadership And Rhythm: Strengthening The Pulse Of Your Group

“I was a participant in one of Jim Greiner’s programs at the Center for Creative Leadership – the premier institute for leadership. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had!

Leaders need to be in tune with the pulse beats of their people, bring them together and work with them to develop synchronization and a rhythm.

Jim’s program caused a transformation to take place. He imparts great wisdom to others, and provides an experience that has meaning and worth. Several years later, my clients are still talking about Jim’s program. It had a searing impact on mind and spirit.”

– President, Visionary Strategic Consulting, and The Alternate Board Facilitator


Thank you Robert… I could not have described Leadership better myself!

The pulse of the group, it’s rhythm, is the fundamental way in which the group members perform their individual jobs, as well as the process in place that determines how they interact with each other on both a daily basis, and when responding to challenges.

Effective group leaders know the rhythms of their people and of the group… what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what to expect from them. With this knowledge, and with the realization of the importance of this knowledge, leaders are able to reinforce positive habits (productive rhythms) and help their group members to change bad habits into good habits.

Group leaders are like orchestra conductors who bring all the individual musicians and their instruments together to make beautiful music!

Corporate Team Building Rhythms: Responding To Challenges

“Greiner has had his fair share of challenges when conducting drumming programs for corporate groups. … the versatility of drums enables him to turn them into memorable teaching moments.

‘The restaurant chain Chipotle once asked me to do a team-building, motivational program for 160 managers,’ says Greiner. The program took place in a room above an upscale hotel restaurant that was serving a late lunch. The hotel Sales & Catering manager was concerned that we might disturb the restaurant patrons with our drumming.

‘So Greiner turned to a low-volume version of his drum program, using 10-inch frame drums and maracas  (small shakers).

‘I used the low-volume requirement as a practical way to show how the Chipotle managers could train their staffs to deal with fast-paced operations while maintaining an atmosphere of tranquility for their patrons.’, stated Mr. Greiner.”

– Making Music Magazine, 2005


The fast-paced tempo of our contemporary professional lives often requires that we be able to quickly adapt to challenges, such as the understandable concern of this meeting planner. When we have solid group rhythms in place, fundamental principles and processes that we follow and reinforce on a daily basis, we are able to quickly and effectively respond to these challenges.

For example, the fundamental principles of my corporate drumming programs never change. They include the universal nature of creating and reinforcing productive group rhythms that are based on the real-world life skills of communicating, collaborating and celebrating. I then adapt these fundamentals to serve, and include, the goals and themes of each of the groups with which I work.

Successful sports teams are often described as being “in a groove” together. This Groove allows the team to instantly adapt to, and take advantage of, the fluid, quickly-changing nature of each game. This Groove does not come about by accident; it is the result of the consistent, purposeful repetition of the core principles, skills and values of the activity, and of the group, every day. This is true of any group, whether it be a corporate group any place worldwide, a village in Africa, or a family!